GT Voice: Boeing’s woes microcosm of US manufacturing
Published: Jan 24, 2021 08:06 PM

Boeing 737 Max airplanes Photo: VCG

Public skepticism about flying on a Boeing 737 MAX plane is likely to grow after a Canadian airline cancelled a flight due to a technical issue with the aircraft.

Canada's WestJet Airlines on Friday grounded a Boeing 737 MAX plane bound to Toronto from Calgary just prior to its take-off after a warning light went off indicating "a potential fault." The incident came just days after Canadian regulators lifted a near two-year flight ban on the 737 MAX. 

Canada is the third country to approve the aircraft's return to service, following the US and Brazil. In March 2019, two deadly air crashes that killed 346 people led to the global grounding of the 737 MAX aircraft, which has not yet recovered from its severely damaged reputation amid an unprecedented crisis of trust regarding the plane's safety. 

While Canadian civil aviation regulators must have verified the safety of the revised 737 MAX model carefully, it is still disturbing to hear about any technical fault right after the return of the plane to service, making people wonder whether the decision to lift the flight ban is too hasty.

Although some countries have approved or are close to approving the 737 MAX's re-fly, uncertainties remain as to whether its comeback to the skies could help Boeing's recovery if reports of troubling faults continue.

As the core of the industrial chain of the US aviation sector, Boeing holds a pivotal position in the American manufacturing industry. To a certain extent, the uncertainty surrounding Boeing's recovery is a microcosm of the US' manufacturing predicament.

How to revive American manufacturing prowess to shore up employment has been at the center of the economic policies of previous US presidents over the past decade, as reflected by Barack Obama's emphasis on reindustrialization and Donald Trump's insistence on bringing back manufacturing jobs from overseas markets. 

The same will be true of the Biden administration, which is also expected to set economic recovery as one of its top priorities, with manufacturing recovery at the top of the economic agenda.

Boeing's recovery is essential to the revival of American manufacturing sector. The aerospace manufacturing chain behind Boeing involves 17,000 suppliers and 2.5 million jobs, and observers already estimate that the Boeing 737 MAX debacle could have weighed considerably on US growth.

The comeback of the 737 MAX may mark the first step in Boeing's recovery, which may still face uncertainty.

With the global pandemic exacerbating a trust crisis, Boeing had its worst year for plunging aircraft sales on record in 2020. It seems questionable as to whether the representative of US high-end manufacturing is still able to ensure high standards of technical safety to repair tarnished reputation. This is because numerous mistakes have already made it extremely hard for Boeing to regain its former glory, let alone rival Airbus seizing more market share and the ongoing pandemic adding to its woes.

Likewise, the revival of US manufacturing will be facing greater difficulties. With more and more capital entering the financial market and rising competition from European manufacturers, it is becoming increasingly hard to reverse the hollowing out of the US economy.

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